Before Sunrise Mountain senior Ben Lorenz can add a second state golf title to a trophy case that includes the fresh award of Arizona junior golfer of the year, he must overcome a major obstacle at the finals Nov. 4 and 5 — his playing partner.
Liberty senior Kobe Valociek has always been a name to remember in local junior golf circles. This calendar year, he grew into a player capable of stacking top five finishes with regularity.
Valociek beat Lorenz in two head-to-head matchups in the high school season and claimed the district championship, though he and coach Ron Anderson were quick to point out that Lorenz missed the Peoria district finals and has not been at 100 percent early in the season.
Should these two squareoff at full health over two rounds at Omni Tucson National, the victor is almost a 50-50 proposition.
“Ben is one of my good friends. We practice together all the time. Pretty much every day we’re in competition. We have a lot of fun with it. It always goes back and forth, one day I’ll beat him by one and the next he’ll beat me by one,” Valociek said.
Valociek finished second to Lorenz at two other tournaments this year.
Spectators at the Kenny Schall Memorial turnament in Prescott this April might have witnessed a Division I state preview as the friends at neighboring schools dueled down the stretch.
“Coaches on other teams saw the scores on iWanamaker and they came and started watching Kobe and Ben because toward the end, they were matching birdie for birdie,” Anderson said.
Valociek said his father, David, got him into golf when he was around two years old.
The family arrived in Peoria from Dayton, Ohio a few years later. Kobe started playing at Blackstone Country Club regularly and caught the eye of his future coach.
“I was actually introduced to him when he was a seventh grader playing at Blackstone and we practicing there,” Anderson said. “He was on the range and somebody said, ‘Hey, you should see this kid. He’s going to be a star for you someday.’”
While he rose up the sometimes lonely youth golf ranks, Valociek came to enjoy being a part of the group at Liberty.
He said he enjoys the team camaraderie and high school golf, in general, is a lot more fun — particularly getting to interact with teammates.
“It’s fun because everyone is doing these little competitions with each other. None of this, ‘Hey no talking while practicing,’” Valociek said.
Anderson said he started leading the team as a sophomore. That year, he finished in a tie for 37th place at state.
Valociek moved up to 27th place in 2018. Then this spring, he went to the next level.
He won the PING Invitational in June and posted six more top 10s.
“It was a physical and a mental breakthrough. I overcame a lot of errors I had before. It was a fun summer with fun events. I had more confidence,” Valociek said.
Anderson has watched Valociek’s approach improve with each coming year. For him, exhibit A was a playoff at this fall’s Ridge Open where his golfer battled against another top state contender, Mahanth Chirravuri of Chandler Hamilton.
“That’s what’s developed the most with Kobe is his mental toughness. He doesn’t get rattled by a bad shot and turn that bad shot into three our four,” Anderson said. “He doesn’t get rattled when anyone is watching him. He doesn’t care. He had that playoff hole with Mahanth of Hamilton at the Mountain Ridge Invitational. You had 10 of the 20 best individual players in it. Kobe and Mahanth ended up tied. Kobe actually won the scorecard playoff but they didn’t want to end it that way. He’s out there with a gallery of practically the entire tournament. There was at least 50 kids watching — he and Mahan weren’t fazed at all.”
Anderson said Valociek has grown into the best boys golfer to come through the school, and a rare contender in a sport that tilts so heavily to the East Valley.
“I was telling Kobe today that if he was at Brophy, he’d be their No. 1. That’s something that Liberty has never had. There’s been years where our No. 1 wouldn’t even make the Brophy team,” Anderson said. “But they have so much depth that our No. 2 would be their No. 5.”
And Valociek seems to be peaking. He played one of his best rounds to clinch the district title.
“District we three-peat and he was the individual champion. Ben wasn’t there, but he would have beaten Ben (in that tournament). He was seven under. His teammate Darren (Ulivarri), took second at 5 over,” Anderson said.
Valociek said he feels more familiar with the state course now. And unlike Division II, where the majority of Tucson golfers play, he will not be trying to win on someone else’s home course.
He visited Virginia Tech University earlier this year and is receiving interest from several other schools, but Valociek said he is in no rush to choose his college. He plans to study business and finance.
Before that, though, Valociek has one goal left in the youth golf circuit when it starts again this winter.
“There’s this junior golf scoreboard ranking nationally. My goal is to be in the top 100. I’m close to that so I think I can achieve it,” Valociek said.